Tomorrow morning our congregation worships together for the last time (not counting our afternoon closing service):
We begin as did John, writing the Book of Revelation from the vantage point of old age and long experience: Grace and peace to you, gathered as the people of the God who is and who was and who is to come, the God of first and lasts and in-between, and gathered as the people of Jesus Christ, ruler of all.
This is a hard day, this last day. It’s a day on which we ponder first and lasts and in-between time. We begin with firsts. I want to invite you to think for a minute about when your life of faith officially began.
For many of you, yours has been officially a Christian life of faith for a long time, since that day you don’t even remember, when you were baptized as an infant. For others, that life began, or perhaps began again, when you found your way into the church, or back into the church, as an adult. For others of you here this morning, you may describe your life of faith in some way other than Christian, as a life of connection to something greater than yourself which began in another setting, during another period in time for you. But whenever or however, most of us have early or beginning moments in our spiritual lives, in those arenas in which we find meaning beyond ourselves, early moments, whether we ourselves remember them or not, that we can recount as a stepping-off point on the journey of faith. The first of many stations along the way.
Today? Many of us will count today as an ending in the life of faith. This is, after all, a last day. For some of us, it’s the ending to a brief period in which we were drawn to this congregation, found a place of worship here, and tried sought to work in concert with God and to make a difference to others in the community. For others, it’s the ending of decades in the Boulevard community. S, I know, has a storehouse of memories of helping to found this church with her husband, Rev. C; so does R, as a charter member of the congregation. So do the C sister and brothers who grew up here.
For all of us, Boulevard marks a chapter in a life of great community and service. I can’t name all of those whom many of you will remember as saints in the life of this church – I’ve been here for only two of your 65 years – but I can easily bring to mind people of this period, as well as some of your stories of the past. I’m thinking of those of you who worked tirelessly, and often physically, to put this building together. I’m thinking of the women who hosted events to raise money for various improvements over the years. I’m thinking of B and how she has been the face and voice of Grandpa’s, and of D and A and V and Pastor A and so many others who have stood – and run and jumped! – behind the community meals. I’m thinking of those of you who discovered deep friendships here. I’m thinking of the members of session, who over the past two years have stretched and grown to serve in ways they never could have imagined when they say “yes” to that call. I’m thinking of B, who quietly ensures that we have candles and communion, and of his entire family, who provides us with a picnic each year. I’m thinking of all of you who usher, and provide for coffee hours, and participate in Bible studies, and run the Powerpoint, and come to worship faithfully, Sunday after Sunday. I’m thinking of all of you who pray with this congregation, here and at home.
And we are all thinking: That chapter is now coming to an end.
But chapter – that’s exactly what is ending. A chapter only.
Because WE are not the beginning or the ending. God is – God is the Alpha and the Omega, the Greek letters for first and last.
We know from the Book of Genesis that God was here at the beginning. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . . “ – that’s what our scripture tells us. I think we know that we weren’t here – we might be old, but we aren’t 14 billion years old! – but we know from the Bible that God was. Here. In the beginning.
And in the end – the real end – God will be there, too. The whole Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, assures us of God’s presence at the end as well, when all that we know is changed and created anew.
And in the middle? Where we are right now, somewhere in the middle of the life of the universe, somewhere in the timeless life of God, somewhere in the midst of the human journey of faith? God is here, too.
I don’t think it’s too hard to see God this morning. Look to your right and look to your left. Do you see God’s image in your neighbor? (It’s right there, whether you want to admit it or not!) Look at this beautiful sanctuary – God has been present in all the love and care lavished on building and maintaining it. Listen to our music – God is always present in the music!
First, last, and in between – that’s where God is.
And you know who else is first, last, and in between – Jesus Christ!
The Bible tells us that Jesus was here at the beginning as well. Remember how the Gospel of John begins? Jesus is the Word, and John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.” That Word was Jesus, with God from the beginning.
And at the last. Our faith, that faith that we repeat in our creeds, tells us that Jesus will come at the end – which is another beginning: the beginning of the new creation, the creation for which we all long, the creation in which all is made new and there will be no more tears, no more crying. And in the middle – here, now, at Boulevard, where is Jesus? Jesus is here, where we worship together. Remember? “ Where two or three are gathered, I am there in their midst” – so Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew.
Jesus is here, where we are kind to one another, where we reach out to one another in times of trouble and in times of celebration. From its earliest days as recorded in the Book of Acts, the Christian Church has been a place of bringing our sorrows and our joys to community.
Jesus is here, where we provide meals and clothing to our neighbors, where we host safety meetings for the neighborhood and when we make it possible for young people to see Selma. As Jesus himself tells us, again in the Gospel of Matthre: When you feed the hungry and clothe the naked and care for others, you see me.
Today in the church across the world, we celebrate Jesus as Christ the King. Sometimes we say that we celebrate the Reign of Christ. It’s the final Sunday of the church year, the day on which we sum up all that we have heard and learned and sung and prayed: We are people of the Kingdom of God. Next week we begin a new year with the first Sunday of Advent, but today we pause to recognize all of the possibility inherent in that new creation in which Christ is King. Ruler of the already-but-not-yet kingdom in which he has come near and called us to follow, but for whose full fruition we wait.
What does this kingdom look like, this kingdom which, Jesus tells Pilate, “is not from this world” and is yet of this world into which he entered, as the Word of God, as a tiny infant, as the Christ who suffers and also as the Christ who defeats death? What is this truth, the truth that marks the presence of this kingdom?
These are some of the things which mark this truth, which tell us that the kingdom is near:
The beautiful young woman I saw on the news the other night, who spoke of lying absolutely still on the floor of the concert hall in France so that the terrorists, still shooting, would think she was dead. She said that as she lay there, she could feel the hall fill with the love being sent into the world by the frightened and the dying. She said she decided that, if she were going to die that night, she wanted to die with love in her heart. That is truth. That is the kingdom of God, coming very near indeed.
The older gentleman who came by this week from Rolling Sobriety, one of the AA groups that’s been meeting here, to pick up the equipment and belongings they had stored here. He struggles to walk, and my guess is that alcoholism has taken its toll on him, but he is dignified and kind, and invests much of himself in keeping that AA group afloat so that men and women have a place to heal. That is truth. That is the kingdom of God, coming near right here at Boulevard.
You know other signs of the truth, signs of the movement of God’s kingdom, signs you have seen here, in this church. Close your eyes for a moment and remember them:
That Sunday school teacher whose lessons opened the Bible to you.
The music which lifted your spirits.
That time you sat down with someone and realized that you – YOU – were called to listen and to share the peace of God with a troubled soul.
The friend who brought communion to you when you were homebound, or in the hospital, and said, “This is the bread of life, and this is the cup of salvation.”
That evening when you discovered that the Bible you had never really thought all that much about was speaking directly to you, about your work and your gifts, and telling you that you were given these gifts so that you could touch others and urging you to see that, as you reached out to them, you were brushing against the God of the universe.
All those moments, moments you’ve never even talked about to anyone – those were your moments of truth, those were your moments when the kingdom of God drew ever so close to you.
Here. In this in-between time. God has been here, all along.
And you know what? The church, this church for now and perhaps another church in your future – church is where we learn this, where we learn the language and begin to know the experience of God. Church is where we learn it – but church is not where we keep it.
Because God – this wild and reckless God of ours – will not be hemmed in by any church building, or by any particular congregation, or by any specific denomination. And Jesus, the truth of our lives, will not be limited by the institutions we create or by the rules we think are so important. God is first, last, and in between – God is everywhere – and God is not going to leave you, no matter where you go. And Jesus – Jesus is the King of the World, Jesus is the One of God who says, “when you belong to truth, you hear my voice – and my voice can be heard everywhere.
This is a great gift my friends, this gift of faith in which we are wrapped by God from first to last and in-between. We are about to celebrate God’s call to us with a re-affirmation of our baptismal vows, a reaffirmation of one of our own firsts in faith, so that as we go out today, we go out remembering who we are and whose we are. And we are going to go out in the confidence that God, the Alpha and the Omega, envelops us with love, offers Jesus as our companion, and sends us forth, blessing each of us to be a blessing, to carry God’s grace and peace into the world, wherever we go. Amen.